War for the Planet of the Apes (2017, USA, d. Matt Reeves, 140 minutes)
The modern Apes trilogy has proven that prequels aren’t always a bad thing. In fact, they can actually improve upon the original source material. What is also proven by this trilogy, is that final installments in trilogies aren’t always the worst. War for the Planet of the Apes is the rare film that perfectly ends an already stellar trilogy.
Set two years after the events of Dawn, War sees the apes still fighting against humanity and aspiring for peace. We find Caesar (Andy Serkis) being haunted by memories of Koba (Toby Kebell), his former ally that attempted to dethrone him and lead the apes down a more destructive path. After Caesar suffers a devastating loss at the hands of a ruthless Colonel (Woody Harrelson), Caesar sets out on a quest for vengeance, while also wrestling with his darker instincts.
In a trilogy that continues to defy expectations, War isn’t the film you would expect. That description, although accurate, seems very action-driven and although there is action in the film, it’s very sparse. What the film is really about, is the struggle of Caesar and how he wrestles with his past demons, while also carrying the weight of being a leader. This is the rare blockbuster that takes it’s time to carefully set up tension and characters, while also having far more interest in story than action, while heavily delivering on both. There’s a constant sense of melancholy that supports the haunting subject matter without ever feeling like a slog.
Director Matt Reeves proves just how much of a great storyteller he is. Not only between this and Dawn, but with films like Let Me In and Cloverfield, he’s shown how much care and precision he puts into every film. If you weren’t already excited for the upcoming solo Batman movie, you definitely should be.
Andy Serkis as Caesar gives the best performance of his career. Caesar is easily one of the most compelling film heroes of our generation, possibly ever, and it’s Serkis who truly brings it out. I think it’s time for the Academy to give Serkis a statue because his work in this film is nothing short of legendary. Whether it be in the traditional “Best Actor” category or a “Special Achievement” award, Serkis deserves an Oscar on his mantle.
Woody Harrelson as “The Colonel” makes for a riveting villain. What could’ve been a one-dimensional character is given more depth and conflict than one would imagine. Even in his introduction, we can see there’s more to him than what’s on the surface. He’s seen as a mix between Colonel Kurtz from Apocalypse Now and Hitler, but never comes off as just the villain. The scenes between him and Serkis are highlights, not just in this film, but of the entire year. This is easily Harrelson’s darkest role since 1994’s Natural Born Killers.
The special effects are maybe the most impressive I’ve ever seen. We have crossed the point now to where you simply can’t tell that these are actors in motion capture suits. Not for a second are you able to decipher between CG and practical. It’s not only the motion capture that’s impressive. Reeves, DP Michael Seresin and the effects team craft some of the most haunting and beautiful visuals I’ve ever seen.
Thanks to inventive filmmaking from Matt Reeves, a powerful and emotional story, an iconic performance from Andy Serkis and awe-inspiring visual effects, War for the Planet of the Apes makes for the best in the entire Apes saga and caps off one of the best trilogies this century.